This is a response article to an article that was previously printed on this site. I had planned to do a direct critique, but the article was deleted, so this is more like a critique of the underlying spirit of the article, which was about sexual objectification.
What is sexual objectification? Very basically: Sexual objectification is treating a person as solely existing for sexual pleasure. Objectification more broadly means treating a person as an object without a personality or dignity. Sexual objectification views people as objects of desire instead of as individuals with complex personalities and thoughts of their own. This is done by speaking or thinking of people, women especially, as only their bodies or the roles that patriarchy has demanded that they fulfill.
Let’s go through a few scenarios and see if we can spot the objectified (victim) and the objectifier (perpetrator):
- A group of men are at Hooters. They discuss the tits of the various servers, and rate their fuckability.
Easy, right? The servers are being objectified and the men are objectifying them. These are women at their jobs, using their skill set to cheerfully take orders, make sure food arrives on time, and generally keep the customers happy. The men are reducing them to their bodies and sex appeal.
- A man is hiring an office assistant. He hires a conventionally attractive young woman with no experience over an older fatter highly experienced woman.
Another easy one. The women are being objectified, not seen for the skill set they bring to the office, but seen for how they look, with hire-ability based on conventional attractiveness.
- A woman sits at the rack at a strip club and watches another woman dance. She admires her strength and skill and beauty and ability to know which customers to talk to, tips her well, and after her set is over, tells her she did an awesome job. She doesn’t know much about the woman beyond what her job is, and she knows it would be a boundary violation to ask her about her personal life. She does not need a sad story or a 5-year plan from the woman in order to approve of the woman’s career choice. She recognizes that the woman is free to choose any career that she wants.
We’re switching it up here, because you may not be able to put yourself into the shoes of the women here if you’re not involved in sex work as a worker or consumer. Stay rational! Don’t let your biases and emotions outweigh your logic skills. No one is objectified here, and there is no objectifier. The woman sitting at the rack sees the woman dancing as a whole person with her own personality and story, and she respects her choices completely and doesn’t violate her boundaries by needing a personal story to justify the choice.
- A woman decides that since she is strong and beautiful and enjoys dancing and being admired and paid well, that she’ll get a job as a stripper, and she’s aware that whether she’s an office assistant or a server or a stripper, there will always be people who will sexually objectify her. Like any other human being, her job requires a certain skill set and she has a life outside of her work that includes hobbies, relationships, and whatever the hell she wants. Her personal story is irrelevant here. Perhaps she comes from a middle class family and has lots of privileges in life. Perhaps she grew up poor and without any privileges. It makes no difference to the scenario.
Duh, there’s only one person here. You can’t objectify yourself. You’ll see in #5 why I felt the need to bring this up. No one is objectified here and there is no objectifier. The woman is using her free will to make a decision for herself that she feels like making.
- A feminist says that she doesn’t approve of a certain candidate’s wife being a possibility for First Lady, because of her choice to pose semi-nude as a model for money. She believes the woman’s choice about her own body objectifies herself and causes other women to be objectified.
It’s tempting to agree with the feminist without deconstructing what she’s saying. If conventionally attractive women didn’t exist and make money off of their looks, then other women wouldn’t have to feel so bad about their looks, amirite? But that has nothing to do with who is objectifying and who is objectified. The woman posting is objectifying the model. I know, I tricked you because she’s a feminist and feminists can’t be sexual objectifiers, right? Wrong. She is reducing the model to this one aspect of her life, rather than seeing her as a whole person with a personality, thoughts, goals, dreams, relationships, and accomplishments. Instead of disqualifying her based on her thoughts, statements, and policies, she is disqualifying her based on her body and the choices she made with regard to her body. And sidenote: There aren’t any qualifications for being First Lady, as far as I can tell, other than being married to the President.
Even worse, this woman is disqualifying the model because other people may choose to objectify the model. And she’s blaming that objectification on the model, who is being objectified. AND, she’s blaming the model for OTHER women being objectified. So this doesn’t just devalue the free will of the model to do what she chooses with her body. It devalues the free will of the objectifiers, who choose to see her as a sexual plaything, rather than as a complex human being who happens to be conventionally beautiful.
Compare this type of blame to other types of blame: A teenage girl shouldn’t wear a tank top to school, because this will distract the boys and cause the boys to objectify her. A woman shouldn’t drink, wear a short skirt, or be out late at night because she might cause someone to rape her. A black teenager shouldn’t wear a hoodie and baggy jeans because it will cause a police officer to think he’s a criminal.
Do you see how objectification, rape and racism are in the hands of the objectifier, rapist and racist? The onus is not on the victim of these injustices to give the offender a reason to respect them. In each situation, we have a clear perpetrator and a clear victim. Let’s not get them mixed up, especially in the name of feminism.